on local authorities, reported The Independent on Sunday (p1).
The government's timetable for assessing whether students are eligible for loans and tuition fees is months behind schedule. New software to process the new criteria, which councils say could take up to six months to get up and running smoothly, has only just arrived.
Councils say the software is full of errorrs and that, because it arrived so late, they will have only a week to test it. At present it is incapable of recognising 'UK' as a valid response to the question
Edward Lister, Tory leader of Wandsworth LBC, said: 'This is the passport crisis all over again. Everything that could be delayed has been delayed. We have had to install an entirely new system for assessing loans and there is a big problem with the software. The department for education has saddled local authorities with an unworkable system'.
The crisis has arisen this year because of how student finance is calculated, as most student grants have been replaced by loans. More than 100 councils are having to use new rules for means-testing loans and tuition fees. The DfEE sent out the new rates for grants, loans and tuition fees five months later than promised. The Student Loans Company, which gives students their money at the beginning of term, has only received a fraction of the forms it needs to start
making checks on students.
The government has in recent weeks bombarded LEAs with up to seven memos a day to help speed up the process.
Shadow education secretary Theresa May said: 'These delays are due to government incompetence. Students are finding it hard enough to cope with the introduction of tuition fees and now we could end up with a serious crisis at the beinning of term'.
The government publicly insists that 'all students will get their cheques on time', but DfEE memos to local authorities admit 'there are problems out there'.